Those aren't the only choices, however. Not only that, but oftentimes, the most oppressive systems came into power through majority rule and the "democratic process" left unchecked.Of course. But I'd rather have the tyranny of the majority than fascism or meritocracy.
I think it's faulty to think that the legislature is the only branch of government in which the democratic process is expressed. The legislature often behaves in ways that may be against public opinion as whole but individual members of the legislature are re-elected due to a great many outside factors that I won't bring up in this thread. I think something is to be said that have a check on the legislature, which the judicial branch can provide by striking down laws that are indeed violations of protected rights or are highly discriminatory towards historically-vulnerable populations who really do not have political power to affect change through the political process.
You do bring up great points, however, about the problems of judicial activism and how 9 (or how many ever) people can make grand sweeping changes that a country may not be ready for (or maybe will never be ready for). However, judges are oftentimes very conservative and uphold most things. In the U.S., anyway, the judicial branch tends to only strike down laws when they are highly egregious in some way and the justices of the high court only agree to hear arguments from like less than 1 percent of all the cases presented to them. Lower courts tend to be even more conservative.